A Decade of Advocacy

It is surreal for me to think that I have been an advocate and sharing my story of cervical cancer for ten years.  I say this because after treatment, I just wanted to stay quiet.  Not talk about the whole ordeal and just move forward.

I am sure many survivors feel this way after treatment, but I have also met many that are very vocal about every single step of their journey.  I was not one of them.  I do not have any documentation about my journey.  The only thing I have are 35 hospital bracelets for each time I had a radiation treatment.  

It wasn’t until four months after treatment that my brother insisted on doing a cervical cancer walk. A coincidence? Perhaps. I will never know.  At first, I did not want to do it, but he insisted so much that I gave in. 

Walk to Beat the Clock – NYC

On September 19, 2009, at the Walk to Beat the Clock, I met Tamika Felder, a cervical cancer survivor and the founder of Tamika and Friends, which later rebranded to Cervivor.  That day I met other survivors as well.  They were sharing their cervical cancer stories.  These stories were similar to mine and told with such heart, passion and confidence.

First time meeting Tamika

I was in awe.  I was inspired and motivated but most importantly I did not feel alone anymore.  At that moment, I made a decision that I wanted to join the cause and the movement. I wanted to share my own story and let other women know that my journey did not have to be theirs and that they were not alone. 

My mission became even clearer when Tamika invited me to a Latino Summit in Washington D.C. It was there that I learned the statistics between cervical cancer and Latinas

To be able to share my own story I needed to be authentic, open and be able to deliver it with an open heart.  Tamika said to me at the very beginning “always tell your story from your heart, because when it comes from the heart people listen.” I have applied this statement to the hundreds of times I have told my story and I still do.  

First radio interview

I still remember the first time I told my story. It was March 28, 2010 and it was a radio interview in Spanish for 95.9 FM El Poder Latino (The Latino Power).  I was so nervous, my heart was pounding, but I remembered what Tamika had told me to do and I spoke from the heart.

On January 25, 2014, I attended the first Cervivor School, which took place in New York City.  Cervivor School is a life-changing event. It is empowering, informational, educational and inspirational.  We also get to share our views, our stories, our concerns, our goals, our obstacles and our strengths.  It is so important that survivors who become advocates are educated and informed with the latest facts to be able to bring the proper message forward. 

It has been a journey of highs and lows.  The reality of things is that not everyone is going to be interested in listening to your story or anything you have to say and this had to be OK with me. I did not let this discourage me.  As advocates, we set to save the world. Unfortunately, I came to the realization that I cannot save the world, I cannot even save New York City, where I reside, but if my message gets to one person in the crowd, I have completed my mission. 

Through the years, there have been many ways I have advocated: free cervical cancer screening events, health fairs and interviews with different media outlets. Not every presentation or interview has been perfect, but I can honestly say that I never did it for the accolades.  I do it to educate women that need to know that this cancer is preventable and treatable if found early.  We lose over 4000 women every year in the United States alone. These women were someone’s wife, aunt, daughter, mother, grandmother and their lives matter.

I am very proud of the work I do as an advocate and I am humbled to say that my advocacy work has been recognized.  

New York City Proclamation

All the work has been important to me, but I hold two events dear to my heart. The first is the proclamation for my advocacy, given to me by the New York City Council on January 10, 2015. This was one of the proudest moments of my advocacy world. 

Lasker Awards with Dr. Lowy

The other was being invited to the Lasker Awards  in 2017 where I met Dr. Douglas R. Lowy and Dr. John T. Schiller, the two scientists that were the recipients of that year’s  award for their technological advances enabling the development of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine which prevents cervical cancer and other tumors.  So proud that my story was featured in their submitted video

My advocacy journey has brought me full circle.  Today I lead a survivor fitness group as the Cervivor Wellness Instructor.  Survivor Slimdown is a Facebook group open to ALL CANCER SURVIVORS.  It is a space for inspiration, motivation and accountability as we learn to navigate our way to health after a cancer diagnosis.

I must say that the best part of my advocacy has been meeting my wonderful and inspirational Cervivor sisters.  Every single one of them has a story that matters.  Stories that show resilience, courage and strength.  Unfortunately, many of them are no longer here, but we keep them in our hearts.  We honor them by continuing to share their stories and legacies because they did make a difference. 

We all bond with the same mission to end cervical cancer and to make our generation the last one to fight this disease.

Advocacy in action!

My heartfelt thanks to Tamika Felder and the Cervivor organization for giving me a voice and a platform to share my story. This organization has supported me on my way back.  They have also supported so many other women fighting and surviving this disease. I will never feel alone again.

Patti is a Cervivor Ambassador and Cervivor’s Wellness Instructor who manages our Survivor Slimdown Facebook group. She is a retired NYPD police officer and an 11 year cervical cancer survivor. She resides in NYC with her husband of 21 years where she’s a Group Fitness Instructor and a Health Advocate.

“On Wednesdays we wear Pink”… wait, what?

That is something my son Matthew always said to me, and I always laughed.  I had no idea that line came from the movie Mean Girls, nor how much I would remember this comment and how it evolved and shaped my Teal & White Tuesdays.  

I knew pink was the color for breast cancer as I had already been down that path.  I had no idea what the ribbon color was for cervical cancer. When I received my diagnosis in 2015, I had to research the ribbon to find out what my color of ribbon would be. Deep down somewhere in my subconscious, I knew I would be wearing that color for the rest of my life.  

After my lengthy treatment battles, I found Cervivor. This became my “go to” group for information, help and support.  I loved it when they said to wear teal & white on Tuesdays.  An idea began to form.  

I attended Cervivor School in 2019 with much help and support from my friends and family.  I honestly don’t remember Tamika’s exact question that day at Cervivor School, but I immediately remember my response, “On Tuesdays, we wear Teal and White.” Thanks Matthew, for the quote from so many years ago!! The idea continues…

I have bought my son several ties and dress shirts in the teal and white theme that he proudly wears to work. I make an effort to post something on my social media accounts about #TealAndWhiteTuesday every week to remind people about cervical cancer, to get your cancer screenings, to get your vaccinations, and to promote awareness. The idea is growing.

In January of 2020 during CCAM, I was invited to Matthew’s place of employment, Hy-Vee. They did a promotion during that year to promote cervical cancer awareness. I had so many more plans for public awareness campaigns, but 2020 had other plans for meeting people.

I was forced to refocus my efforts, and the idea began to fully bloom.  Pandemic boredom = creative, crafting mind flow.  I started off with buying printable iron on sheets and made one shirt.  I wanted more.  I created a better graphic design and had made several more shirts.  I handed out twelve shirts to people, and five of them went to high school age girls. We discussed cervical cancer and the need to take care of yourself, even at a young age.

I made and sold teal and white kitchen pot scrubbers, with proceeds going to Cervivor. I attend the Cervivor virtual holiday party and am now on the CCAM Planning Committee. I tell everyone I meet that health is a PRIORITY in life and do not ignore it! 

I post about cervical cancer and Cervivor so often now on social media to spread the word. I talk about it with my friends and family. I am not ashamed or too shy to share my story with others, no matter who they are.  I want people to know how this affected me, and how I am a stronger person now for the ordeal I survived.

The impact that Cervivor School had on me to advocate and talk about this has amazed even myself.  I was not even sure about going, and here I am a year later involved as I can be and loving every minute of it.    

I love #TealAndWhiteTuesday and dress in it every week, even if I am not leaving the house to go anywhere. I am forever grateful to my family and friends in supporting me to get the word out, and I love how involved they have become to spread the word as well.

Have you ever noticed how many people actually read the t-shirts people wear? Have you stopped yourself to read someone’s shirt as they walk by you? It offers an ice breaker without having to say a word.  

“On Tuesdays we wear Teal and White.” Spread the word.

Karen North lives in Liberty, Missouri. She is a retired registered nurse. Her world is her family, fur-babies, and friends. She is a six-year breast cancer survivor and a four-year cervical cancer survivor. 

Read Karen’s Cervivor story.

Read Karen’s blog post on being both a breast cancer survivor and cervical cancer Cervivor